Thursday, December 31, 2020

Antique mirror

From Schiltberger's book, a curious mirror.
Near the port of Alexandria there is a fine high tower, on which there was not long ago a mirror, in which one could see from Alexandria toward Cipern those who were on the sea; and whatever they were doing, all could be seen in this mirror at Allexandria, so that at the time that the king of Zipern went to war with Allexandria, he could do them no harm. Then came a priest to the king of Ziperen, and asked what he would give him if he broke the mirror. The king replied, that if he would break the mirror, he would give him whichever bishopric he might choose to have in his country. The priest then went to Rome to the Pope, and said: That he would break the mirror at Allexandria, if he would allow him to abjure the Christian faith. He gave him permission that he might do so in words, and not in deeds nor with the heart. Now he did this for the sake of the Christian faith, because the Christians at sea suffered many injuries from the Infidels, through this mirror. The priest returned from Rome to Alexandria, and was converted to the faith of the Infidels, and learnt their writing, and became an Infidel priest and their preacher, and taught them the Infidel faith against the Christian faith, and they held him in great honour, and wondered, because he had been a Christian priest, and they trusted in him very much. They asked him which temple in the city he wished for, as they would give it to him for his life time. There was also a temple in the middle of the tower where the mirror was; this temple he asked for, for his life time; they gave it to him together with the keys of the mirror. There he remained nine years, and then one day he sent to the king of Zypperen that he should come with his galleys, and he would break the mirror which was in his power, and he thought, that, after breaking the mirror, if the galleys were there, he would go on board. One morning many galleys came, he struck the mirror three blows with a hammer before it broke, and from the noise all the people in the city were frightened, and ran to the tower and fell on him, so that he could not get away; then he jumped out of a window of the tower, into the sea, and was killed.

In the (extensive!) footnotes one finds:

Makrizi describes the pharos at Alexandria (S. de Sacy, Chrestom. Arabe, ii, 189) as having at the top a large mirror, around which criers were seated. Upon perceiving the approach of an enemy through the agency of this reflector, they gave warning to those in the immediate neighbourhood by loud cries, and flags were displayed to apprise others at a distance, so that people in all parts of the city were immediately on the alert.

I don't know about you, but the first thing that comes to my mind with mirrors and lighthouses is "optics." "Consider that Bacon, in the fifth book of the Opus maius, waxed enthusiastic about the Ancient's ability to enlarge small objects and to bring faraway ones close, using appropriate configurations of lenses and mirrors."

The use of lenses has been known since antiquity. This is in Alexandria, and the earlier references to it date back to the 8'th century. It sounds a lot like a telescope.

Although this wonderful "mirror" is also supposed to have been used to set ships on fire by reflecting the sun's rays--sorry, not big enough for that. But little demonstrations inside the tower might have been frightening.

And ...., it turns out my speculation isn't orignal. That article includes a truly spectacular speculation about a telescope in the lighthouse.

Oddity in descriptions

Idly reading THE TRAVELS OF BISHOP ARCULF IN THE HOLY LAND, one of the first things that struck his, and my, notice was the church of the Holy Sepulchre and the tomb of Jesus. Since he was there about AD 700, Hakim the Mad had not yet destroyed everything, and it was presumably in the same state it had been for hundreds of years, and the descriptions will be very different from what you would see today.

All the tomb pictures show something about as tall as a man's shoulders, but Alculf's description is a bit different.

Within, on the north side, is the tomb of our Lord, hewn out of the same rock, seven feet in length, and rising three palms above the floor. These measurements were taken by Arculf with his own hand. This tomb is broad enough to hold one man lying on his back, and has a raised division in the stone to separate his legs. The entrance is on the south side, and there are twelve lamps burning day and night, according to the number of the twelve apostles; four within at the foot, and the other eight above, on the right-hand side. Internally, the stone of the rock remains in its original state, and still exhibits the marks of the workman's tools; its colour is not uniform, but appears to be a mixture of white and red. The stone that was laid at the entrance to the monument is now broken in two; the lesser portion standing as a square altar, before the entrance, while the greater forms another square altar in the east part of the same church, covered with linen cloths.

Matthew doesn't describe it; just calls it a tomb. Mark implies that the tomb was big enough to enter; so do Luke and John. Mark used a different Greek word, that seems to include monument as a connotation. So not much there, except that it sounds rather more like the pictures than what Arculf describes.

But chiseling out rock isn't easy or cheap, even the kind of mediocre stone in that outcrop. Why waste effort? Maybe what Alculf was describing was more of a family burial area, with niches carved for the individual tombs. That seems more practical, and explains why the tomb is described as "broad enough to hold one man".

I don't get the "raised division in the stone to separate his legs" bit though. I can't think of a good reason to wrap the legs separately, and a good one not to (easier to carry the body). The shroud of Turin certainly has them tight together.

I am disinclined to believe that what he saw was the Lord's cup, or the place where His last footprints are to be seen in the dust, or that there was a 700-year-old fig tree from which Judas hanged himself. But I'd think the tomb location might have been remembered a while, and the identification stands a chance of being accurate. Maybe it wasn't quite finished? Or quite smooth, and he misinterpreted... I trust his observations, but not the interpretations.

FWIW, the translation in Project Gutenberg omits things like "relating a miracle concerning the sudarium or napkin taken from the head of our Saviour (which has not been[xiii] thought worth retaining in the present translation)."

On Mount Sion, Arculf saw a square church, which included the site of our Lord's Supper, the place where the Holy Ghost descended upon the apostles, the marble column to which our Lord was bound when he was scourged, and the spot where the Virgin Mary died. Here also is shown the site of the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

Three sites so close together (plus a pillar taken from elsewhere)? I know Israel is small, but that's quite a stretch.

By all means, read the report. There are others at the link too

Short tenures

At the time Edigi was the Chief with the power to elect or depose kings in Tartary. From The Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger, a Bavarian who at the time was a slave of Zeggra:
Then Edigi elected a king named Polet, who reigned one year and a half.

Then there was one named Segelalladin, who expelled Polet;

and after this, Polet’s brother was king, and he reigned fourteen months.

Then came his brother, named Thebachk, who fought with him for the kingdom, and killed him, and then there was no king.

But he had a brother called Kerumberdin, who became king, and reigned five months.

Then came his brother Theback, and he expelled Kerimberdin and became king.

Then came Edigi and my lord Zeggra, and they drove away the king, and Edigi made my lord the king as he had promised. He was king for nine months.

Then came one named Machmet, and he fought with Zeggra and with Edigi. Zeggra fled to a country called Distihipschach, and Machmet became king.

Then came one named Waroch; he expelled Machmet and became king.

After that, Machmet recovered, and he drove away Waroch and was again king.

Then came one named Doblabardi, who drove away Machmet and became king, and was king for three days only.

Then came the same Warach, who expelled Doblabardi, and again became king.

Then came my lord Machmet, and he overcame Waroch and again became king. After that, came my lord Zeggra, and he fought with Machmet and was killed.

Something new every day

There's been a sharp rise in auto theft this past year, and also in "drag racing" / crazy-fast driving. These may be connected.

You probably know that most police departments no longer do high speed chases. They can follow for a while, but then drop out. Suppose you have a cargo of drugs. Are you being tailed? One way to find out is to drive crazy-fast and see if anybody behind you is doing that too. If not, you're safe--find a place to slow down and rendezvous in the back of the back parking lot of Walmart or something. If so--you're being followed. Speed up and wait out the chase and try again another day. Who cares if they read your plates? The car isn't yours anyway.

True, sometimes they can tail you from the air, but they don't have a lot of planes and it takes time to get it in position--even longer if it is on the ground.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Private police?

A private police force in Atlanta, for the Buckhead neighborhood?

The obvious question: "Why not hire more police?" I assume the answer is that that would be politically unfashionable.

The second question: "Will a private force have different "rules of engagement?"" Will they be like a private security team, who call in the cops when there's trouble? If so, the plan is better than nothing, but not exactly ideal.

If not--if they will be a parallel police force--they, and we, have big problems. Thugs and protestors may believe one can "defund the police," but there will always be a need for law enforcement. Private enforcers put us back into the chaos of competing barons that the Magna Carta addressed (or should have) long ago. Or, perhaps worse, they become a political police. I think that's the intended end-game for the leaders of the defunders, but they may want separation instead.

There will be something.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Antibiotics on the farm

We now know that antibiotics were overused and that we're suffering because of it. When I first heard of their use, I wondered why farmers wanted to be so pro-active. Why not just treat them when they get sick? I was disabused of that misunderstanding.

The antibiotics promote growth in livestock. The headline in that article says "fatten" but the growth gave less fat and more protein. Nobody knows why.

Maybe it does something to the gut bacteria -- for mice low antibiotic doses make them obese, and a microbiome transplant from the obsese mouse to untreated ones makes them obese. But that "obesity transplant" can happen with people in other situations, so it may not be directly related.

Directly trying to directly measure the gut bacteria of steers doesn't show very much--probably because they only look at a few strains.

Maybe fewer bacteria in the gut means you get more of the nutrition yourself. The second link has a list of 11 possible mechanisms people have investigated.

Maybe, as the first link suggests, it might not be important anymore, thanks to better overall nutrition any hygiene for hogs. Or maybe a 16% average weight gain is important enough that farmers are still using them, despite the rules against it.


It's supposed to be 20/20. After scanning the paper's "year in review," I'm certain the saying isn't true. In fact, I think much of this past year won't be seen clearly for a decade--and by then a lot of details will fuzz away. I didn't make any predictions last year; just had a hope that I'd do better doing what I ought. Without going into details--I did nothing dramatically better. Maybe a little better, here and there; maybe a little worse, here and there.

Cut off from a lot of people, not serving in church anymore, worse health--on the other hand my commute to work is a hundred times faster these days.

I've no idea what next year will bring, except that "if you had known what would bring you peace" seems to apply, and the various flavors of tribal madness show no signs of remission. I think it is safe to predict that there will be squabbles about the vaccines--some saying they are being treated as guinea pigs, some complaining about distribution, and some searching for who to blame for the inevitable failures and side effects.(*) And the newsertainment outlets will continue to peddle the exciting rather than the true.

In other words, what passes for normal in our fallen world.

And I can dust off last year's hope for the next year. It's still timely.

(*) There always are--it's a tradeoff between the large fraction who die from a disease and the small fraction who are injured from the vaccine or who don't get the immunity after all. I learned that in elementary school. True, Mom was a nurse, so my education may have had points of difference with most's.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020


They landed on D-Day
Bing and the other dogs proved to be very useful, especially for locating mines and booby traps. "They would sniff excitedly over it for a few seconds and then sit down looking back at the handler with a quaint mixture of smugness and expectancy," he wrote, noting that the dogs would then be rewarded with a treat. "The dogs also helped on patrols by sniffing out enemy positions and personnel, hence saving many Allied lives," he added.

However, in addition to being saviors, the dogs were also victims. Monty was severely wounded on D-Day, while Ranee was separated from her battalion shortly after landing in Normandy and never seen again. But they were later replaced by two German shepherds who had switched sides and soon became friends with Bing.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Letter 1

Dear Grimwad,

Congratulations on your new assignment! You will find this very challenging, thanks to your predecessor's grotesque incompetence. He sends his agonized regrets.

You must act quickly to prevent further catastrophe. Several points in the patient's dossier suggest promising directions, but all demand your utmost vigilance.

Yes, the patient is a Christian. He has the enthusiasm of a new convert and is trying to do those exercises he thinks a Christian ought to. Unfortunately, he is largely correct.

You cannot directly stop him from his good intentions. But you can finesse them.

If he insists on reading his Bible, suggest a chapter a day. When he bogs down, make sure to keep distractions nearby.

The first time he forgets he'll resolve to do better. Go all out with distractions the second day. Make sure these are plausibly important ones, to give him good excuses. Then, at night on the third day, as he tries to catch up, he'll fall asleep.

You will take the obvious precaution of having him do his devotions at the end of the day.

Without much effort, you can persuade him that he needs to start over from the beginning. Never let him dream of starting anywhere else, or come near the idea that some parts might be more important than others—make him think that blasphemous. He should "do it right this time." And the next time.

Then, by the Rule of Frustration, a habit of failure will turn into a habit of aversion.

Sadly, discouragement at this level isn't a sin, but if it cuts off this bit of access to the Enemy, it will serve us.

Be delicate about this. Any familiarity with that horrible volume is dangerous. Even some scholars we had well controlled slipped away when the Enemy took a verse they'd parsed down to dry bone, and made it come alive again.

For some patients, making him a connoisseur of translations can instill pride and a critical eye instead of a receptive heart, but yours hasn't that literary bent. A pity.

Your patient is rich beyond the dreams of those worms from only a few centuries ago. Don't let him suspect that. He mustn't dream that perpetual entertainment is not normal, or is anything less than his birthright.

He wants to surround himself with Christian songs. Very well, surfeit him.

The risk is obvious. What he is immersed in will affect him. If he develops attitudes of reverence or gratitude he's lost. But we can use weaknesses of the vermin to win.

Our goal with this surfeit is two-pronged.

First, hearing the same songs over and over often deadens their ears to the meaning. If you are cautious to keep entertainment always present, after a while he will feel (not think, mind you!) that hymns are another kind of entertainment, will cease to notice the meaning of the words, become bored, and change the channel. He will come back again, but insofar as he uses hymns as entertainment, they become much less dangerous.

This will blunt their attack from that direction and give us a breathing space to work on him. It may take a very long time to wean him off the Enemy's songs. Even when you succeed, you must beware, since the Enemy calls using songs from genres you might think were safe. Never forget that music is _his_ invention.

In the second prong of our counterattack, we will fill his all time with sound. Let there be no quiet. When he goes for a walk, have him bring his music. When he drives, have him turn on the news. Whisper to him that he will sleep better with music. Let him always hear the sounds of man.

If he has a taste for the discordant and ugly, so much the better, but for now let him never be still.

In silence he might hear his own heart, and be afraid, and turn back to the Enemy. Worse yet, he might hear the Enemy speaking.

Keep him away from his cousin as much as you can. His cousin's file says he likes fishing in quiet mornings. You see the danger there.

Fortunately, your patient is a talkative sort, and already finds silence uncomfortable.

We can salvage this situation yet. I will write about prayer in my next.

Your mentor, Baldagon

Letter 2

Dear Grimwad,

Arrange with his cousin's tempter to make sure that he never gets invited again, since his continual yacking scares the fish. And you have to make sure your patient takes offense at that. This should not need explanation!

Nobody cares whether you could help it or not. The fool has found that he likes peace and meditation. Therefore, starting yesterday you must make him busy. Make him think that quiet times are a luxury, and not an explicit command of the Enemy.

You don't dare let him work in his church right now. He still thinks of himself as a learner, and the church is a dangerous place for the humble. Later, when he is surer of himself, though feeling guilty about not volunteering, you can arrange with Megloth, the secretary's tempter, to select a job for him. When the job proves inconvenient and he finds himself taken for granted, he'll drift out of it and be safely unwilling to work in the future—if you play your cards right.

But in the meantime, keep his occupations as secular as possible. Politics is always a good choice for sidetracking enthusiasm. Is there some local project he can oppose or demand, on nominally Christian grounds? His file says he's a poor writer: try to get him writing posts and letters. He will feel ridiculously self-righteous, waste a great deal of time, and then feel put-upon when other writers object to his arguments or mock him. All of this is delightful, but more importantly, it keeps him away from his duties.

As for prayer: you won't be able to make him stop—not directly. So make his prayer complicated.

Encourage him to think that memorized prayers are mindless or "vain repetition," -- that he must always compose an original prayer. These will always be slower and more forced than either a memorized prayer or simply talking with the Enemy.

In addition, while he is composing a prayer, his focus shifts from the Enemy and whoever he is praying for, to include much more of his own mind. Afterwards, when he is approachable again, you can suggest a little pride in his compositions.

Your patient is distractable. The memorized prayers can become pure rote, but even so they are not harmless—they can "un-distract" him. For him memorized prayers are too great a risk. Don't forget to encourage him to look down on the poor souls who only know how to recite canned prayers and are not "praying from their heart" the way he does.

Don't let him dream that many of the given prayers and songs and psalms are aspirational. If he doesn't happen to _feel_ like praising, make sure he insists on being "authentic" and skipping that part.

You have been careless about his prayer time. I told you his devotions must come at bedtime. In the morning, he must think himself too busy with the day's work to spend time in prayer. Only at night, with the work done, should he feel he can devote himself to God.

Instead of asking for grace to deal with the day, he'll be asking for forgiveness at the end of it, and generally falling asleep before he's done. Yes, it is too painful to stay near him during prayers, but trust me, this is how it works.

He knows he must pray for his enemies—and he has two that afflict him regularly. Try to keep him vague about those—tell him that thinking about his enemies puts him in an un-worshipful frame of mind. If he insists on praying for them, encourage him to pray for their conversion, that they will become better people, the kind who won't afflict him anymore. Don't let him pray for their health or good fortune.

To answer your question: no, I did not ask for you to replace my worthless ex-apprentice. The Lower Marshall made the assignment. I assume you got on his bad side somehow. You still have a chance, if you salvage this operation.

Your mentor, Baldagon

Letter 3

Dear Grimwad,

No, do not attempt to persuade him it was all illusion! He isn't as excited as he was, but the memory is too fresh, and the feeling will come and go. You'll waste a powerful weapon if you deploy it now. Save that attack for when he has grown reattached to the world.

So he has heard of fasting and wants to try it. Discourage him if you can; it develops self-control and other vices.

But if it must be, persuade him that he already knows what that means, and that a hard fast is the only "real" kind of fast. If you guide his diet the night before he'll be especially hungry.

When he becomes hungry during the day, urge him to try to push the hunger out of his mind with will power. Focus hard on that. Don't let a hint enter his mind that he should pray. Bring to his mind the food waiting for the end of the fast.

Overindulging in water to deal with his hunger can have pleasing effects too. Then, when you remind him that fasting is bad for the sick or old, he will have reason to feel himself excused in the future.

I must repeat: make it a matter of pride that the only fast he attempts is the hard fast. Keep him from learning how much of his life runs without conscious thought. I knew a patient for whom standing in the doorway listening to the rain, by unconscious links, led to lust hours later. Your patient's habit of comfort-eating under stress will be very useful to you, if you can make sure he never learns of it. Fasting could lay that link bare.

Yes, having him agitate for creating a ballfield for the young creatures is a good plan. It doesn't feel like a great accomplishment—where is the great sin in it?—but it reduces him from what he was. The _direction_ is good.

The more abstract his plan is, the better. The wretch doesn't actually know what games the young play today. He remembers his idealized past. Objections to his arguments will feel like personal attacks. Make sure his letter emphasizes his Christian care for the deprived. That should annoy his readers, and escalate bad feelings. Find out who is likely to respond, and have her tempter make sure her reply mocks his poor grammar. Attention to detail wins the game, my apprentice.

Yes, absolutely you must involve him in attending to the nightly news. Weren't you briefed on the available tools for this zone? We have trained them to think it their responsibility to keep abreast of the latest gossip (never called that) and the terrible events they cannot do anything to help or worsen. It tickles their little minds with trivia, excites their little emotions over ephemera, and trains them to be passive. And for many of them, overextending their sense of compassion numbs it.

If your patient wants to pass judgment on the people he learns of, so much the better. Self-righteousness grows well in that kind of soil. And he will learn of, and by habituation start to think normal, their fashionable Balaam-Christianity. If he starts to be shocked, remind him of "judge not" and let immersion take care of the rest.

This ties together very well with our goal to involve him in secular pursuits, and it ties up more of his time.

You have a long way to go yet. Do not be careless. And you are wrong, I will not be blamed along with you if you fail.

Your mentor, Baldagon

Sunday, December 20, 2020

In the gate

It isn't a major detail, but in the story of Esther, Mordecai seems to be some kind of official. He is entitled to walk around in front of the harem building, and sit in the king's gate, where he's able to overhear plotters. In at least the Levant tradition the gate was a place where officials sat and public business was transacted (Gen 19:1, Ruth 4, Ps 69:12, Deut 21:18-20, 2Sam 19:8, 1K 22:10) Daniel 2:49 uses a different word that usually means court, so maybe this is wrong, but being able to maintain contact with the queen seems to suggest that he had some status.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

If I Could

Surprises come when you don't read the liner notes. I never did like the lyrics much. I get it about sparrows and snails (the sparrow eats the snail), and hammer and nail, and forest and street, but the fear of being tied down didn't seem quite fitting. And, of course, the English lyrics had nothing whatever to do with the originals.

I was curious and watched a couple of videos about ragas and swaras (it looks like Indian music has complicated sharps and flats), and Youtube decided I wanted some Eurovision--hence the above. (In addition to lots of meditative raga music...)

One of the other offerings was "Des Ronds Dans L'Eau", which translates more or literally as "Circles in the water". It turns out Sonny Miller adapted it: Now You Want to Be Loved which amplifies one theme from the original to fill the whole song.

Translation can be fascinating. To me, anyway.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Ann Althouse has a post about Sven Sachsalber's death. I'd never heard of him before (surprise), but one of his oeuveres was "performance art." "In another performance, he ate a species of poisonous mushrooms to experience the particular and unique effect of his vision turning green for two days. And in a performance that became a video work, Sachsalber spent 24 hours in his bedroom with a cow."

I think I can live a contented life without becoming more familiar with his work. I have an almost instinctive aversion to "performance art," but on reflection, the idea doesn't seem entirely crazy.

Lord Byron wrote She walks in beauty, like the night, which is poetic art, but perhaps the lady was an artwork herself. He wrote as though she was. Some of us can write a glorious novel, and some of us seem to live through one.

If you'll excuse the metaphors and stipulate that living is a kind of art, what is the difference between that kind of art and picking through a haystack in a museum looking for a needle? If everyday life can be performed beautifully, are those individual actions, stripped of context, fairly called art?

Maybe my reaction to "performance art" is due to its purpose. The performer isn't kicking the can down the road for the joy of it, or to see which of his buddies can kick it farther. Those are, for want of a better word, "organic" to the performer. But is trying to impress a classmate different in nature from trying to impress an art critic? Perhaps it has to do with the latter being unhindered by any rules.

Maybe I'm wrong, but so far I still think that children kicking cans down the road for fun is a good performance, and an artist doing it for £12,200 is bad art.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020


Despite what Tilton and Osteen and Roberts may say, prosperity sometimes points to the parable of the fig tree.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Money and blood

When Youngest Son was in Civil Air Patrol, I hung out with some of the adults of the group for a while. One of them asked, "What keeps a plane in the air?" I figured there was a trick to the question, and there was. He went on: "Money."

Yes. That. That's what keeps a military running too, and has done so at least since the Crusades. I'm assured that amateurs discuss tactics and strategy, and professionals discuss logistics. That makes sense; if your men and stuff aren't where they need to be or when they need to be, or are stepping on each other, your tactics don't matter much.

Your logistics demand money.

It isn't just a matter of making the materials you need for war. (We already have people whose job is to worry about strategic materials and strategic industries.)

The money that keeps the military going comes from taxes, and if businesses are closing because the war cut off imports or too many workers got drafted, some of that money dries up. A command economy doesn't work terribly well for very long, even in wartime. Managers aren't that smart.

We've tried to trade money for blood. We don't just train our fighters, we equip them with gadgets to make them more effective, and provide expensive coordination tools (close air support, etc). Fewer soldiers do the work of more--at least in some battlefields.

Less money => more lives lost.

You need a strong economy to pay for readiness, and to keep the number of gold stars small in war. I assume we have people dedicated to figuring out how to degrade an enemy's economy--for just that reason. What do we call people who worry about our own economy's effect on the military? We do have them, don't we?

Related considerations apply when you're talking about non-human enemies.

Friday, December 11, 2020

"The good nazi"

We're coming up to a evil anniversary: a great deal of evil and a surprising light.

John Rabe allied himself with a grotesque organization of racial superiority, but when people were being slaughtered around him he risked his life to save strangers of other races, then and later. Which was the deeper part of his heart?

I hope we can honor that. We seem to be losing the capacity to honor--except, ironically, along racial lines.

I wonder how I'll act when my test comes.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

You keep using that word

Q5: Does this mean that CentOS Stream is the RHEL BETA test platform now?

A: No. CentOS Stream will be getting fixes and features ahead of RHEL. Generally speaking, we expect CentOS Stream to have fewer bugs and more runtime features than RHEL until those packages make it into the RHEL release.

In other words, this new operating system called "CentOS Stream" will be getting new software features and new attempted bug fixes that aren't yet in the official "RHEL" release. That's how a beta release works.

For the curious: RHEL is Red Hat™ Enterprise Linux, intended to be a stable platform which industries can rely on being solid and reliable for a guaranteed number of years. CentOS is/was a free version of these produced by a consortium of Linux users including CERN, that lacks RedHat support. IBM bought RedHat, and appears to have leaned on the CentOS consortium to change their model.

I'm trying to picture the geometry

"16 year old male with a gunshot wound to his head in the parking lot of the Palace Cinema Movie Theater ... the 16 year old male accidently shot himself". (He survived.) Followup to the story 20 days later: "he accidently shot himself in the head when he was passing the stolen gun (stolen from a vehicle in Sun Prairie) to a rear juvenile passenger while sitting in the stolen vehicle."

Somebody probably wasn't a Boy Scout.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Police-free school planning

Madison mulls safety plans for police-free schools, including student-led oversight panel
The proposed committee would have six youth advocates who have been disenfranchised by discriminatory discipline practices in the past, led by a member of Freedom Inc. and supported by two district-designated and funded staff members.

Under Freedom Inc.'s proposal the committee would have complete decision-making power over school safety and accountability policies within the district; oversee all district investigations of student, parent or family member complaints against school staff; and establish a process to protect students against retaliation after filing a complaint, among other measures.

"disenfranchised by discriminatory discipline practices" sounds an awful like: "Got arrested for misbehavior"(*) and "led by a member of Freedom Inc" means Freedom Inc (the plan proposers) want control.

What could go wrong?

True, the schools of my youth didn't have police presence, but then neither did they have frequent fights either. (Even Little Rock Central High didn't.) Madison's do.

If they mean literally "disenfranchised", that means the person is in prison or on parole or extended supervision.

videos of smoking guns

You may have heard of, and perhaps seen, the Fulton County video presentation in which it appears that observers and media were asked to leave (according to affadavits), after which the count continued using containers of ballots sequestered under a cloth-draped table.

The Board of Elections discussed the video and then certified the election because of course they did. At least one of the members admits that he hasn't seen the video in its entirety (14 hours), and urges an investigation--later.

It seems to boil down to he-said:they-said. One could always make the count look worse, but it would take a little effort.

I still suspect that mail-in ballots are and were a much more fruitful and less detectable source of fraud than discovering them in trunks Minneapolis-style. Some states seem have had a bi-partisan lack of interest in election integrity for a long time now, though perhaps it's just that those who care were cowed by slogan threats and court challenges.


The University Russian Folk Orchestra gave an online concert yesterday. The conductor, Gorodinsky, is a showman with a comic flair, and at one point he sat down to listen for a while. I remembered the Soviets had experimented with orchestras without conductors for ideological reasons. Lully's death demonstrated how dangerous the profession could be, but I didn't know much about the history of the job.

Obviously in small ensembles one of the musicians can direct--in some African musical performances the drummer gets his cues from the dancer. But when the ensemble gets too big...

There's always handwaving. With finger gestures to tell the notes. Cheironomy sounds like it could do not just tempo and volume control, but also compensate for the lack of sheet music. Wikipedia claims versions go back to Egypt, with church singing using it by the 5'th century.

Conducting with a dedicated conductor isn't all that old, apparently.

How about outside Europe? China had some very large ensembles, but that looks like it was associated with temple worship and the court. (Confucius thought that sort ennobling, and pop music corrupting.) From the description, it sounds like it was standardized enough that maybe a conductor wouldn't be needed for the performances, though maybe for practices one would. Though--maybe Confucius would have found it uncongenial if it didn't have a director. He didn't seem like a man to go a bundle on spontaneous social organization.

Chinese musical notation didn't seem to have paid a great deal of attention to tempo, leaving that to the preferences of the musician. (and followup).

Quick searches don't suggest any remnant of ancient North or South American orchestral customs--all I know of is small ensembles.

India has several traditions: the Hindustani encouraging improvisation, which would seem to favor small ensembles without a conductor. "personalization" is alleged to be one of the more important characteristics of Indian music.

So--mostly for Western music?

Friday, December 04, 2020


We listened to Bethel college's Christmas concert tonight--a friend of one of my daughters was conducting.

A caveat: they need more microphones in the auditorium, especially when people are so spread out. Masks, and horn masks, do seem to impair sound quality a bit, but I think that was a lesser issue than not getting a clean mix now and then.

It was good to watch.

Handbells seem to be tricky things. I didn't know they could do some of the things the performers made them do. But all my life handbells have always seemed like a strange fit into the music. They tend to come out at Christmas--maybe they aren't ideal for the timing of choral-derived works, or maybe the precise deadening of them takes more practice than a once-a-year instrument gets. The smaller/higher bells don't fill the note very well--for my ear, anyway. The tubular bells seem to sound better, but it's harder to get them to shut up when the note's done.

Which sends me off on a rabbit track, of course. I assume somebody has already tried to put a piano-type action on a set of tubular bells--it would be easier than a carillon system and those aren't uncommon. It would be bigger more delicate than the bell set, since you'd want the bells exposed and that would expose the hammer and damper assemblies too.

Following the rabbit a little farther maybe solves my original puzzle. Maybe I'm hearing (with untrained ear) the difference between strike note and resonance and how they fit in the mix. The tubular bells are designed with clear pitches; the handbells inevitably provide several notes. I like bells; they just seem a bit out of place in some works.


A useful rule of thumb with news stories, from the Wall Street Journal to the Daily Mail and NYT: when you read an exciting story, poke it with a long stick before you try to pick it up.

Reporters love the myth that they're diligent seekers of truth, unafraid to talk truth to power. I wonder if that's ever been broadly true. Partisan misrepresentation seems to go back as far as newspapers, and avoiding troublesome investigations seems to have a long history too--with a little more justification in times and places when it was easy to suppress newspapers.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Background for reading science news stories

Way back when I was an undergrad and dinosaurs lurked in the forests, we were warned that for every measurement you had to have an error estimate--no credit without it.

A naive first year will think "Well, I can sort-of interpolate in between these two tic marks, so my error is half a Volt."

Ahem. "Everybody set the apparatus up the same way, didn't they? Look at those measurements. What's their standard deviation? Have we learned anything from this little exercise?"

Oops. It turns out that inconspicuous changes in the procedure can mean noticeable changes in the measurement--more than the difference between a couple of tic marks on the meter. If you make enough measurements with the same apparatus, you can often figure out the true value to better than the "tic-mark" resolution.

If you don't know the error, you don't know the measurement.

As you make calculations with that measurement, you have to carry the error along, where it joins with other lovely errors. ("The speed of sound depends on temperature? I didn't take the temperature, but it must have been about 22C. Plus or minus 2. And my speed of sound has an error estimate now.")

So far, so painful. That little plus-or-minus at the end is acting like a katamari ball.

It gets worse. Your calculation, whatever it may be, is based on a model, and that model has some limits. For example, electric currents in a circuit seem like straightforward things to calculate, and even AC circuits aren't too bad. But each wire can be an antenna, sending and receiving. At low frequencies, the effect of that is too small to worry about, but at higher frequencies not all the energy is going through the wires. If you use the simple model rather than the hairy radiowave-included calculation, your result will have some model-dependent error--systematic error.

Most people keep that "systematic-error" separate from the "statistical error." The final answer looks something like

3.14 ± .05(stat) ± .025(syst) radians/second

It can take as long to figure out what the uncertainty on a measurement is as it does to make the measurement in the first place.

This doesn't show up very often in popular science reporting. It needs to.

That single measurement may be exactly what you want and need, but very often a distribution tells you more.

I took the very first computer-programming course our university offered: they didn't even have a textbook ready. It was FORTRAN, of course, via punched cards into an IBM 370. Both the business and engineering schools decided to require it.

The course grade average was somewhere around 80, so you'd think the course and grading were well-designed. Except--if you looked at the grade distribution, there were two "bell" curves--one centered down in the 60's and the other flattened out in the 90's. One group was ready for the course--it was perhaps even too easy--and the other was missing some training and found it hard to keep up.

For another example, I remember a school meeting in which the principal was comparing test averages among the area schools and taking great pride in a few tenths percent difference in average score. I knew roughly what the distributions looked like--pretty much the same everywhere in the area. Having a handful of students at a school with learning problems could change the average. It could easily be just the luck of the draw; there was no way to deduce how well the teachers were doing. Using averages hid that.

For something like the mass of the Sun, show the error estimate. For something like the recovery time for COVID, please show the distributions. There will be more than one. Distributions for different age ranges, distributions for different comorbidities--ideally the n-tuples would be available so we could examine it ourselves and look at recovery times for 30-40yo male smokers. (The statistics peter out when you put too many requirements on the search.) But anything would be a good start.

"Mathematicians are a species of Frenchman: if you say something to them they translate into their own language and presto! it is something entirely different." Goethe

Goethe was unfair. It's easy to be fuzzy with ordinary language--poets love to be able to say two or three things at once. But "How often are foxes rabid?" is very different from "How often is a rabid creature a fox?"

More topically, consider a possible cure X for COVID. "Am I 90% sure X is a cure for COVID?" and "Am I 90% sure that X is NOT a cure for COVID?" sound like the same question, but they aren't. It is perfectly possible for the answer to both to be No. The key to understanding why is that uncertainty I mentioned at the start. I made it explicit in these questions, but news reports very rarely do, and headlines never--they trumpet "Vitamin D no use on COVID!" without any qualification. Maybe it is and they just can't prove it yet.


  1. What is the uncertainty?
  2. Is there a distribution, and what does it look like?
  3. What exactly is the question being answered?

Education and discipline

His education had been neither scientific nor classical—merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge (he had always done well on Essays and General Papers) and the first hint of a real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling. - C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Thinking of high-school, perhaps one might add music and team athletics to the possibilities. Both demand a lot of personal discipline and duty to the team. There are standards to meet. The unsuspecting student may find himself cultivating self-control, loyalty, and an appreciation for skill, and perhaps other virtues as well. When I was in school I, good at neither instruments nor sports, thought them extraneous to education. I've changed my mind since.

I only just noticed: in the story Mark (the character described above) is given a job as a newspaper columnist--a position whose practitioners often seem to know even less than reporters.

Monday, November 30, 2020

No perpetuity

I'd never heard of this before--from the UK:
The right at any time or times prior to the expiration of a period commencing on the 22nd day of December 1920 and terminating on the 20th anniversary of the death of the last survivor of the issue now living of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria to make connection with all or any of the part of the hereinbefore mentioned storm water drains and sewers ...

The questioner hadn't seen time limits defined by the lifetime of royalty before. The answer turned out to be

This is an attempt to escape the rule against perpetuities.

"No interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than twenty-one years after some life in being at the creation of the interest."

...Because royal families are large and wealthy, the likelihood of one of them living ...(a long time)... is large.

Sunday, November 29, 2020


Every now and then I've had a lyrical idea that I tried to turn into a song. Somehow it never gets more than a few bars.(*) The words mostly come out OK, but the music in my head bores even me. Matching somebody else's tune is one thing, but making a competent tune of my own is hard. And there's a vast difference between competent and good, and I don't have a good feel for what makes that difference.(**)

Is this something one can learn, or is composing something you need a gift for?

(*) There's a story that a fan once approached a radio comic (Fred Allen?) with a great idea for a gag. The pro heard the setup and gag, and then encouragingly replied "What happens next?"

(**) Perhaps even the great ones don't--of the different peices in the same work one may be great and another just good.

Tablet Conducting

Back when tablets were starting to show up, I wondered if intelligent music stands would be useful. The conductor could annotate everybody's score at once, sync everybody to the same page at once--it would save some time, and maybe reduce page fumble accidents. Somebody else wondered too, but with enough money to hire the programmers to make it happen. I'm not sure about "No more unwanted page turns because of the wind: with iPads, your digital score is rock solid!" I've seen music stands fall over, and fallen paper usually sustains less damage than a fallen tablet.

I hadn't thought about page turn noise, but good riddance to it if this works. I'd bet a beep when your tablet updates could be noticeable at the back of the hall too.

Thursday, November 26, 2020


To brand-new eyes it's a brand-new world, and sometimes the older eyes can share that.

True, we live surrounded by pain caused by ignorance, carelessness, and malice--but also surrounded by beauty and order and love. Our lives and works were to draw an image of God on the canvas of the world, but that canvas has been grimed and slimed--but the same friction that wears away the good works to make room for new also wears away the evil. A little here, a little there; just a border skirmish(*) that events often seem to render moot.

Right now it's almost the same world, but with a new moment.

Fun little mysteries: a crow hopped down the edge of my neighbor's roof until it reached the gutter, from which it fetched a bright orange Cheeto and flew to the roof ridge to eat it. (maybe plundering a squirrel's stash?)

Encouraging actions: think about all the things that have to be organized and go right for a bus to show up on time at 9pm.

Perspective: just for fun I tuned in the local police dispatch. Thefts and drag racing and brandishing a gun, yes, but outnumbered by welfare checks--and lots and lots of dead air. (and a dead deer on a bike path)

And those brand-new eyes.

In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely ‘First Servant’. All the characters around him – Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund – have fine, long term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and pointed as his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted. C.S. Lewis

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Myths and an interesting quote

Rabbit tracking led to The Death of Zeus Kretagenes:
For an allusion to the manner of Zeus' death it is necessary to turn to Isho'dad, a follower of Nestorius, in his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, who claimed as his source Theodore of Mopsuestia; in his note on Acts 17.28 Isho'dad reports:
The Cretans said about Zeus, as if it were true, that he was a prince, and was lacerated by a wild boar, and was buried; and behold! his grave is known amongst us; so Minos, the son of Zeus, made a panegyric over his father, and in it he said
"The Cretans have fashioned a tomb for thee, O Holy and High!
Liars, evil beasts, idle bellies;
For thou diest not; for ever thou livest and standest;
For in thee we live and move and have our being,"

An earthquake interrupted a sacrifice in a temple on Crete (or so I conclude from among the various arguments), and the interpretation of that in the paper linked above included the myth of the annual death of Zeus. I include his conclusion as an example of such conclusions (perhaps unfairly):

The case argued here is cumulative: that the worship of Zeus in Crete as a god who died, and was reborn, annually, was derived from the Minoan cult of a god of vegetation who similarly died and was reborn; that the (albeit limited) evidence, that Zeus died by being tom by a boar, associates him as dying god with other vegetation gods, such as Adonis and Attis, who also were killed by a boar, that the death and burial of Zeus were associated with Mt. Iouktas because its profile represented the dead god reclining in death, and that the mountain thus took the name 'sacred mountain of Zeus'. It may thus be far from coincidental that it is on this same mountain that the remains were discovered of what has been termed by the excavators a human sacrifice, during the ritual of which the young male victim had been done to death with a blade bearing the representation of a boar. ...

that the earthquake interrupted the very ritual of the vegetation god's annual death, gored by the wild boar. I suggest that, during the time of the Mycenaeans' presence in Crete, the name of their supreme god, the IndoEuropean sky-god Zeus, came to be associated, quite inappropriately, with this ritual of the Minoans' dying god of vegetation; and that consequently there arose in Crete alone the tradition of the dying Zeus, for which the inhabitants of the island were subsequently condemned as liars by all other Greeks.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Limits and Renewals

Kipling wrote a number of stories after the War to End Wars. I hadn't seen any before. Limits and Renewals is a collection of short stories, bracketed with poems. They won't replace The Jungle Books, and getting through the dialects is sometimes a chore, but some are fun and some memorable. He proffers, though on the basis of what experience I don't know, a cure for The Black Dog. The Miracle of Saint Jubanus is fun; similarly A Naval Mutiny. The Church that was at Antioch imaginatively reconstructs--but with, unfortunately, some lack of knowledge of religious history. The Manner of Men works better.

The effects of the late war on men show up over and over, and so do doctors. There's a little sci-fi, too.

All in all: it's a little grim, but with some good parts.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Kids not in schools

I have not tracked down the references for the Supplement's eAppendix to the JAMA report purporting to estimate the effect of school closings on life expectancy via a correlation between years of education and life expectancy.

Yes, I went "Say what?" too, which is why I decided to have a look. (I got there through trying to figure out how many students weren't really attending school. I read an estimate that over 1/3 of the Chicago Public School students never connected, and I see quite a few kids playing outside during "school-time. Maybe they're homeschooled.)

Evidence suggests that missing school has adverse effects on eventual educational attainment. A longitudinal study of teacher strikes in Argentina revealed that disrupted schooling lowered graduation rates, total educational attainment, and subsequent income. An educational reform in Belgium differentially affected Flemish-speaking and French-speaking parts of the country and resulted in strikes of approximately 60 days in the French-speaking part of the country against none in the Flemish-speaking part. Using this natural experiment in a difference-in-difference framework, economists estimated the long-term effects of these strikes on educational attainment to be a 5.8% reduction in total years of educational attainment, a somewhat larger effect than that identified in Argentina. Prolonged strike studies in the United States and Canada are lacking, but even short-term strikes were found to result in diminished test scores. One US report found that the single best predictor of high-school graduation was fourth-grade reading test scores: 23% of children who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade will not graduate high school, compared with 9% of those who are.

One of these things is not like the other things, of course--the predictor is a correlation that doesn't distinguish between test scores that are lower because of lack of teaching and those that are lower because of lack of interest or ability. The Belgian study is an estimate, not a measurement--and the Flemish and French speakers have different distributions to begin with. Only the Argentine study is relevant to the issue at hand.

That Argentine study is interesting. One of the effects they found was a shift from studying to "home production" when strikes lasted a long time, which in that environment would contribute to the lower lifetime income they find. ("males to sort into lower skill occupations", "females to move toward home production") I'd like to have seen the distributions rather than just the averages, but the effect looks real.

In our case we don't have teacher strikes--at least for now. We do have a lot of kids who get much less schooling attention than they used to. The number of students who don't log in every day overestimates the number not studying that day ("doing assigned work that does not require a daily check-in"). The 15,000 high school students that LA is worried about here sound like they were in marginal situations to begin with thanks to family situations and family dynamics, and now are completely off the school's radar. The odds of them excelling were never good--now they probably need some kind of adult education catch-up to reach those that will eventually want an education.

I wonder how much of the lack of student contact is a measurement of underlying problems not ever under the schools' control. I wonder if the teachers in the City Journal article have as much impact on student's lives as they think they do.

Homeschooled students are probably doing fine, but I'd guess that parents motivated enough to do that would also notify the school about it, and thus the kids would not be counted as missing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

All I want is ...

"The Campus Planning Committee unanimously voted last week to recommend to Chancellor Rebecca Blank that the boulder be removed from Observatory Hill."

The Wisconsin Black Student Union is mad about Chamberlin rock because it was called something else once 95 years ago. I noted that the furore would resurrect a long-forgotten name. McWhorter seems to have ambitions beyond the symbolic: "After the rock is removed, the Black Student Union's focus will shift to generating ideas for how students of color can reclaim the space, such as installing a piece of art". That's an interesting choice of words. "reclaim" ?

This might be amusing. The effort to remove is purely power politics--the claim that it was a daily reminder of oppression is an obvious lie. But it turns out that another minority group has a stake in the hill--and this stake is statutory.

"UW-Madison needs to secure approval from the Wisconsin Historical Society before removal begins because the rock is located near an effigy mound.

The first step requires UW-Madison to submit a request to disturb a catalogued burial site. All Native Tribes of Wisconsin are notified during the process, which can take 60 to 90 days and includes a 30-day comment period. A qualified archeologist is also required to be on site during removal.

Languages and logos

I think they did an interesting job with the logo. I assume there are legal requirements for three languages, and to provide symmetry they add the fourth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

What if: Shakespeare

Our Youngest Daughter is currently fascinated with and learning about the Original Pronunciation of Shakepeare's plays, and speculations about original staging as well.

Flip the focus: If Shakespeare had modern theater layout and equipment at his disposal, would he keep the old staging or chuck it for something easier? Sets would be easier to manage, and entrances and exits be more flexible with the modern layout. The compromises on which way the actors face would be different--I'd think easier. And he'd have much better behaved audiences.

I suspect he would enthusiastically take to using actresses.

But if you introduced him to movies, and the possibilities in retakes and mixing close-ups and medium shots, would he hire a producer and switch? I'm not expert, but what I've seen suggests that movies need more and more varied visual action than stage plays--or at any rate, people expect it so it has to be there. What approaches he would use? He liked to throw in puns and bawdy jokes--maybe some slapstick?

I'd bet he'd keep an eye on what the modern customers wanted, and make the productions shorter.

And I'd bet the Shakespeare scholars would disdain the movies.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The nail

I saw the It's not about the nail video a few months ago, and chuckled.

Curious about a detail, I searched for it again and found sombre expositions explaining that it really wasn't about the nail; that she never once said she wanted help or any kind of resolution; she just wanted to be heard. Roger that. I think. Although suggesting a solution does seem to acknowledge your problem, doesn't it? You were just more efficient at communicating it than you expected.

Suppose I take a different approach: "What Would Jesus Do?"

Hmm. I find Him asking questions. "Do you want to get well?" and "What do you want Me to do for you?"

And... "And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief."

Of course, I'm not Jesus, nor (at least so far) one of those deputized to say "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." And when I hear a problem, most of the time the most obvious cause is a symptom of something I know nothing about. So it makes good sense for me to listen a lot.

Sometimes just listening isn't easy, especially when the sufferer wants to sling blame around. Or seems (to me) to have a history of loving to complain. I have a finite reserve of patience...

Which probably means I'd make a lousy therapist.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

This was recommended to us a couple of months ago, as a way to understand how this person saw the state of the nation and what this person most feared.

I put off finishing it. But to ship things back to the library and help declutter the house:

On pages 24 and 25 you find their key indicators of authoritarian behavior.

  1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.
    • Reject Constitution or willing to violate it
    • Imply need for antidemocratic measures (e.g. cancelling elections)
    • Endorse using force, mass protests, etc to change government
    • Attempt to undermine election legitimacy
  2. Deny legitimacy of policital opponents.
    • Describe rivals as subversive
    • Claim rivals are existential threat
    • Baselessly describe rivals as criminal
    • Baselessly describe rivals as foreign agents
  3. Toleration or encouragement of violence.
    • Ties to armed gangs, etc
    • Encourage mob attacks on opponents?
    • Refused to condemn violence
    • Praised violence in past or elsewhere
  4. Ready to curtail civil liberties of opponents.
    • Supported laws or policies that restrict civil liberties
    • Threatened legal or other punative action against critics
    • Praised repression elsewhere

The main villain of the book is Trump, of course, with his "erosion of norms," which sounds a little like the classic "The fight started when he hit me back."

The book starts with Nixon, and then jumps to Garland (what happened to Bork, hmmm?) "Why was most of the norm breaking being done by the Republican Party? ... Republican voters rely more heavily on partisan news outlets than Democrates do. ... Rush Limbaugh, ... all of whom have helped to legitimate the use of uncivil discourse, have few counterparts among liberals." It goes on to describe the tit for tat escalations.

The lack of self-awareness is staggering. Occupy, Antifa, the violent wing of BLM: The violent mob attacks are leftist. The rejection of the democratic rules of the game is (for the moment) from the Democrats. The curtailing of free speech is leftist and Democrat. Threatening the media was something Trump did (to his shame), but he did not and could not follow through. Threatening and silencing individuals and groups is commonplace--from the left.

And it isn't undermining an election's legitimacy to notice that there's been fraud. We've all known about Chicago, and Minneapolis, and several other hot-spots, for years. No doubt it's a shock to the patient when the doctor says there's a tumor, but that's not a good reason to conceal the diagnosis.

They have a valid observation in the "Saving Democracy" chapter: "if President Trump were impeached without a strong bipartisan consensus, the effect would be to reinforce--and perhaps hasten--the dynamics of partisan antipathy and norm erosion that helped bring Trump to power to begin with. As much as a third of the country would view Trump's impeachment as the machinations of a vast left-wing conspiracy--maybe even as a coup." Got it in one, there.

They hope for a broad coalition against Trump that includes (e.g.) "evangelicals and secular feminists." At this point (as they noted but I didn't see them analyze) we have a religious divide, not just a political one, and that kind of coalition just isn't going to appear unless one or both sides give up their religion.

They don't want the Democrats to abandon "identity politics."

They recognize that their goal of "a multiethnic democracy in which no particular ethnic group is in the majority and where political equality, social equality and economies that empower all" has never been achieved, but they consider it "America's great challenge." With the current definition of "social equality" (i.e. interchangeablity, every group/sex equally represented everywhere), I don't see how it is possible. And I notice that liberty doesn't appear in their list of desiderata.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Goose Pond

At an Audobon sanctuary near us, we stopped to look at the birds on the pond. My first reaction was "Wow, there must be a hundred swans there!" I'd never seen so many in one place. 227. Including a family with 5 cygnets. Life must be good for them in the area, for so many of the chicks to make it.

UPDATE: Today (14-Nov, the day after), I'm told no swans remain. They must have gathered for the migration flight.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


The supper-table conversation turned to which of the Narnia books was favorite. I said that wasn't easy--sometimes I had a taste for one and sometimes another. It would be easier to answer which I liked the least.

I was, of course, completely outvoted. The Horse and His Boy was fine, but is my least favorite.

Granted, there's no accounting for tastes, but I like to try to figure things out, and I think I came up with an explanation.

I like "high fantasy," mysterious possibilties, and epic myth--and the eucatastrophe. The Magician's Nephew offers the end of a world, the beginning of another, and a wood between the worlds of endless possibilities. So too, in a fuller way, does The Last Battle.

I think Out of the Silent Planet is fine, but Perelandra is far better--and it partakes more of the mythic. That Hideous Strength I had trouble with the first time I read it (freshman in college, I think), but I have since come to appreciate it much more. It mixes the ordinary and mythic in a way that Tolkien thinks owed a lot to Charles Williams. I think Williams generally did a better job finding the supernatural in the ordinary, but Lewis was very ambitious with T.H.S. and included many more moving peices than Williams ever did.

The Pilgrim's Regress has a mythic arc to it too, but it was one of Lewis' earlier works, and as he himself confessed, was excessively obscure. Till We Have Faces is good, and has a mythic climax, but somehow never quite caught my imagination the way some of the others did. But I've gone back to The Man Who Was Thursday many times.

Monday, November 09, 2020

A risky profession?

Two auditors (Peters and Gifty) died in Peter's parked car on 2-Oct, another (Fahnboto) in an accident two days later, and a fourth (Nyeswa) was found dead of an apparent fall in his compound on the 10'th. All were either from the Internal Audit Agency or the Liberian Revenue Authority.

Autopsy results are delayed since reports and specimens were sent to an overseas lab for corroboration.

The auditors were reported to be working on the alleged mismanagement of $48M (US) donated to fight Coronavirus in Liberia. (The Information Minister denies this.) One site claims that the police drove Peter's car away from the scene to secure it--which doesn't sound like the aftermath of a bad accident.

But, after you read all these things, what do you know about the situation? The Liberian media are even worse than the US media (believe it or not) at making things up and reporting rumors as fact.

Sunday, November 08, 2020


In Kings we read of burning human bones on an altar to pollute it. That's a kind of cremation, obviously--bones shouldn't burn. Right?

At a Geology Museum show the director spoke of burning bones to make smoke. He didn't explain how, but evidently there was something I was missing. He said that the word bonfire came from "bone-fire", and the dictionary says that appears to be correct.


Experiments in Bone Burning: they tried to ignite bones with dry grass on windy Wisconsin days. Not much luck. You have to get the bone hot enough to melt the fat--that's what burns. They tried burning boiled bone too--it was too windy, and I suspect it wouldn't work at all. If you boil them to get the nutritious fat out, what's left to burn?

Instructables offers to teach us how to burn bones, though that's mostly about turning bones into fertilizer. If you prefer something a little drier, try The Use of Animal Bone as Fuel in the Third Millennium BC Walled Enclosure of Castanheiro do Vento: "The various experimental studies that have been published have shown that the use of isolated bones to ignite a fire is completely ineffective. But according to the observations of Théry-Parisot (2002), fires that contain a mixture of bone fragments and wood fuel are longer lasting than those with only wood." You have to love the word choices: "One of the salient features of the use of osteological elements in combustion is the lack of coal production as it happens with fuel wood. It seems that the exclusive reliance on combustion bones cannot be used in the context of long-term fire or for cooking." Hmm. Fat rendered from bones doesn't make long-lasting coals. Who would have guessed?

So the museum director was mostly wrong--if all you have is bones you're not going to get a fire started. But... you learn something new every day.

Antifa trans

Andy Ngo has been reporting from Portland for months, and posting about the catch-and-release of the rioters.

One feature jumps out at me--the disproportionate number of rioters who identify as "non-binary" or "trans." Why? Maybe Ngo picks them for effect--in which case the number of arrests must be an order of magnitude or two bigger than he is reporting. I'll assume the reports are real.

I'd not noticed that body dysphorias made people more violent. Maybe sufferers are more likely to blame society these days for the fact that their new identity doesn't bring joy. Maybe there's some other psychological problem that is more likely to be violent, that the current fashions map that problem onto body dysphoria.

Maybe its a founder effect--the recruiters wound up with a lot of them once, and frontline street enforcer got to be known as a "trans" thing, and it has been like that ever since.

Or maybe the enforcers who come from the priviledged class have poorer street smarts than the rest, and get caught more often.

I'm not inclined to hang out with them to try to find out. I'm not a good liar, and I'd get beaten up for my pains.

Saturday, November 07, 2020


On the brighter side of things:

Years ago I proposed that each doctoral student prepare, alongside his thesis, a "poster-session" summary aimed at a high-school audience. In many STEM cases, this requires quite a lot of supporting material (e.g. what a vector is, what chelation is, etc). This has three good effects: The student learns how to explain his work to the layman, interested laymen can learn where their tax dollars are going, and the university gets some exposure.

The notion faced polite lack of interest.

But the UW is trying an experiment. They are offering a cash grant for students to add a chapter to their thesis explaining either the significance of their work or how they came to work on it--trying to convey the excitement that inspired them.

That seems like a step in the right direction. Academic researchers are commissioned to "find out what's over the next hill" and report back--and we're not always good at the "reporting back" part.

Of course some "disciplines" would be a little embarassing to translate (see chapter 20)


Friday, November 06, 2020

The next step

In California several propositions went down to defeat: 15, which would have revoked the famous Proposition 13 that froze property taxes (under certain conditions); 16, which would have rescinded a constitutional provision banning discrimination (negative or positive) because of race, sex, etc; 21, to let local governments institute rent controls. All of these were beloved of leftists and heavily supported, and apparently the polls were dead wrong about them. In Illinois a tax scheme nominally intended to raise taxes on the rich (but I gather had the side effect of making it far easier to raise taxes on everybody), also failed, despite vast support.

Given the success of ballot manipulations in Milwaukee, Atlanta, et al, I suspect such unlooked-for accidents won't happen again.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Tactical Defeat

I suspect carelessness when I hear the phrase "tactical defeat." I gather it can mean one of several things: abandoning a position in hopes your adversary will over-reach (like a chess sacrifice), abandoning a position you can't sustain without major reconfiguration and collecting new resources, or abandoning a position as an olive branch for eventual compromise.

The third isn't much use when your adversary treats the conflict as a war, which is pretty close to the attitude now. And the rules of modern politics are more like Calvin-ball than chess--words and rules change without warning. Don't count on your adversary being stupid.

That leaves the second: the "I shall return" approach. Maybe you will, or maybe the Overton Window shift will make it harder--especially if there's now a bureaucracy which lives from the new policy.

In no case does it sound like any kind of advantage.

It may work out that way. History is full of comebacks. Still, counting on comebacks seems like a poor bet--unless you have inside information. Some of us live in hope of a major come-back-- a eucatastrophe--on better grounds than those who trust in politics and war can boast.

Freelancing journalists

The first story:
"Chris David, a reporter working for Radio Paraclete, has been found dead in Gbarnga with gunshots wounds. David’s death has sparked protests from motorcyclists in Gbarnga, who are demanding the intervention of the Liberia National Police."

A follow-up story:

Ballah said as a mark of respect and protest for the death of Chris, all radio stations in the county have decided to suspend major programs for several days.


They further said should all of the mentioned actions fail to yield any fruitful results; they will shut down all of their radio stations because the police cannot guarantee the safety and protection of their employees.


Chris was said to have also been a motorcyclist who does his normal hustle when he’s off duty.

The latest update:

Prince Garlawolo, a notorious criminal in Gbarnga, Tuesday admitted to police investigators that he and the deceased Radio Paraclete journalist Chris David had gone to steal a goat on the night of October 29 on Tucker Farm before he (David) was shot in the stomach by the owner of the farm.


Garlawolo, who was arrested on November 2 following a manhunt, informed police that he and David had been successful in stealing goats at night and selling to a local restaurant owner in Gbarnga, Geeta Bryant.

Radio Paraclete is a Catholic radio station that began broadcasting on Pentacost 2020.

Sometimes it pays to wait for the rest of the story.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Election fraud

There'll be some, of course. Some of it is legal (ballot harvesting in California cough cough). And ballots will mysteriously appear in car trunks, if past history is anything to go by. I expect the latter to draw a lot of unwanted attention--so the usual suspects may be a little less ambitious in their efforts.

Mail-in ballots offer no guarantee of privacy or lack of coercion. (And some states have a history of not dealing with them well--especially military ballots.)

The door-to-door harvesting is more efficiently done in high population density areas--the big cities. And chicanery with boxes of ballots is also more easily done in a place where you can have a critical mass of the corrupt, and a complicated-enough organization to obscure what's going on from innocent eyes.

For state-wide races (e.g. for senator or presidential elector), that economy of scale makes the big cities the most important foci of fraud. And because big cities currently tend to skew to one particular party, the fraud will generally skew that way too. The more diffuse fraud (intimidation of family members, etc) should be more uniform.

Sunday, November 01, 2020


AVI has some links about reasons for voting, including a defense of negative voting. I have had a strongly negative judgment of one of the candidates for many years, and some new positives for the other; but I notice that quite a few people I know have exactly the reverse.

If Trump wins, several cities will have what Michael Yon calls Flat Screen Riots, and the smart money says several more (e.g. Portland) will have insurrectionist riots. The latter is a safe bet because those insurrectionist riots are ongoing. They seem restricted to a few friendly locations--whether that's because they need friendly DAs or because the core cadre is small, I don't know, but I predict more of the same.

Actually, I'm surprised Madison hasn't seen more of them. I wish I knew the details of why it hasn't--mostly there've been street-clogging demonstrations, and most of those peaceful. (I know a few participants.) I'm guessing the Antifa leaders got their orders to stand down, but maybe the local prosecutors made it clear they weren't friendly.

As to the bigger picture: I'll take a little risk here. I don't know what his heirs think, but I suspect Richard wouldn't mind the unauthorized reprint at a time like this.

Richard Armour
Lines for the Day After Elections

The sun still rises in the east,
The song of skylarks has not ceased,
The mountains stand, the seas are calm, 
I hear no detonating bomb.

The banks are open, trains on time,
The morning paper's rich with crime,
A stream of traffic fills the street,
The ground is firm beneath my feet.

No cataclysmic conflagration
As yet has swept our luckless nation.
No sign of doom have I detected,
  Although my man was not elected.

Of course, sooner or later there will be disaster, and it will be worse the longer the cans get kicked down the road. But not Wednesday.

Friday, October 30, 2020


Everybody knows the argument that if we knew the future in at least moderate detail, we would not be as motivated to work hard. Perseverance would turn into something entirely different—more like a willingness to follow a script than courage.

Free will changes nature into something we can't wrap our minds around. Let that go for now.

What about the gifts of the Spirit? How would they grow? (assuming there weren't different ones that I can't wrap my mind around)

  • Love: There might be some plus to knowing how it would grow. OTOH, if love is willing the good of another, the "scriptedness" of life would seem to diminish the "will" part of love.
  • Joy: Would joy in the present be diminished by the knowledge of problems ahead, or increased by the knowledge of greater joy later?
  • Peace: This would depend on what we chose to concentrate on: the waterfall in the crags or the precipitous path to get to it. And perhaps, whether our earthly goals will be ultimately frustrated.
  • Patience: This becomes meaningless.
  • Kindness: Why would this change? Maybe if we knew in advance that some of those we were kind to would be ungrateful, we would have less of the spirit of kindness in those actions.
  • Goodness: Why would this change?
  • Faithfulness: What would this mean anymore?
  • Gentleness: Like kindness; maybe it wouldn't change.
  • Self-control: This might weaken. Que sera sera

The future pain might discourage, or the future victory encourage—it would depend on you.

Faith, Hope, Love: Hope isn't entirely about this world, so knowing the future doesn't make as huge a difference as you'd expect. Faith—maybe less.

I've said that if before my wedding you'd told me the bare bones of what I could expect , I'd have run screaming. And I'd have been wrong, because the troubles were worth it. I would have "known" the future, but not known it well enough.

I suspect God designed the universe just fine. Though I'd really like a little sneak preview on a couple of vexing questions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Different kinds of wealth

And he began thinking to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and I will store all my grain and my goods there. And I will say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years to come; relax, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!”’

Image from Alfons Morales via Unsplash

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Public health expenditures

You will be shocked (Shocked!) to learn that there may have been some mishandling of COVID-19 (Wuhan 2019A ?) funds in Liberia.

The headline says that millions vanish into thin air, but of course the story itself differs: A bit less than a million in earmarked funds was "co-mingled" with Department of Health funds and some of the spending isn't properly accounted for.

They allotted US $1800 for "Rumor Management." That's either way too much or way too little for Liberia. Be that as it may, look at some of the approved expenditures:

I suppose a lot of people from out of town have to come to Monrovia to work on the project. I don't see Thinker's Village in that list. I wonder if they're still open.

Monday, October 26, 2020

A little different take on China

David Goldman wrote about China, and his take differs from others I hear.
Western observers often attempt to draw a bright line between the good Chinese people and the nasty Chinese government. That is an unsubtle form of condescension, and wholly misguided. The character of China’s state is shaped by the ambitions of the Chinese people.


The emperor is not a revered demigod on the Japanese model, or an anointed sovereign claiming divine right, but simply the emperor whose job it is to prevent all the other emperors from killing each other.


At a closed-door conference in Beijing with senior government advisers not long ago, I asked the Chinese group if they felt nostalgic about any of their past rulers. After all, the Jews pray thrice daily for the return of King David’s dynasty. Medieval British romances call Arthur “the once and future king.” Similar tales are told about the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Charlemagne, and others. Folklorists call this motif the “king asleep in the mountain,” and it is encountered from Portugal to Japan—but not in China. None of the Chinese officials in attendance could name a government they would like to see return. On the contrary, the Chinese are happy to see the back of every one of their dynasties. They tolerated them when they were useful and turned on them when they became corrupt or weak, which takes a couple centuries in the best cases, and a couple of decades in the worst.

Interesting. I will probably look for the book.

I'm curious what he thinks of the man surplus there. Will they be spent in war, or colonial projects, or is the enthusiasm for China Uber Alles only skin-deep in the families with only a single child?

The US has a long history of being friendly with China (although not always Chinese immigrants), interrupted by Mao et al. I wonder how well that will survive the expansionism and influence-buying spree they've been on lately.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Death of Meaning

AVI has a Quilette link on his sidebar, and yesterday's article was "Elder Millennial Metalheads: Our Shrinking World of Dark Thoughts and Bad Jobs". It's quite sad.
Everywhere I looked, it seemed all of the cool people had the same message. The American Dream is a sham. You’re better than that.

... We were too clever for the assembly lines, too principled for Wall Street, too vulgar for academia. Find glory or die, because this middle space of strip malls and mortgages is worse than death.

So we did what we could, and tried to find a purpose in a world that seemed more excited about a new Olive Garden than teaching us how to be good men.

What think you of that charge? We're offered buybuybuy, with a side order of sex, and if that's not enough meaning for you you're welcome to embrace the "magical progress of history" and signal how virtuous you are. We get some rules about tolerance and treating the environment nicely, but what about courage or justice (unqualified) or wisdom?

Still, the author has agency:

We all shared a common disdain for the dehumanizing economic machine set to absorb us. We were average young suburbanites struggling to make a living at mindless service and factory work. For many, death really did seem preferable.

...Aspiring to transcend the system, we were living in a kind of economic limbo, choosing low-paying, low-responsibility work that allowed us time off to rehearse, record, and tour.

OK... I think I detect some choices here.

I love America. I love this land that birthed the artists whose works give me life. This is the country that molded all of my sick, glorious heroes and friends. I don’t want to see it torn apart. But the anger, this rage I’ve seen growing among youth, I do understand it. Among all the things in this world that have baffled me since I can remember, anger might be the one thing I understand.

I will hold fast to self-reliance until my hands are cold and my heart is lifeless meat. I will honor the memories of fallen brothers. And for others, this is my plea: Our problems are complicated, so don’t fall under the sway of ideologues who offer answers that are simple. You know better than that. Be who you choose to be, be beautiful, be yourself. No one has magical access to sacred knowledge, religious or secular, that can save you. Only death is real.

It sounds like the heart of self-definition is sawdust in a silk wrapper, with no meaning or power to inspire.

Voter Letters

My wife and youngest daughter have been getting a stream of "Center for Voter Information" letters, warning them that "Who you vote for is private, but whether or not you vote is public record." It includes the general election voting record for the rest of the household.

I haven't gotten one.

One of the letters mentioned how important it is to have women and minorities "have their voices heard."

I think I know why I haven't gotten a letter.

This seems like a faintly intimidating approach. "We will know whether you voted!"

The Center for Voter Information is a "nonprofit, nonpartisan organization." And no doubt they also have ocean-front property in Kansas to sell us.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Phosphine on Venus

The announcement that phosphine (PH3) might be present in Venus' atmosphere generated a lot of skepticism, though you might not know that from the news stories about "life on Venus."

Re-analysis of the 267-GHz ALMA observations of Venus: "No statistically significant detection of phosphine."

To be precise: ALMA looked at Venus in this region because another observer had suggested phosphine might be there. Nothing in the above report deals with the other experiment at all--just ALMA's result.

But oh my... The ALMA spectrum is, of course, horribly jagged. How do you figure out what the background is for a given feature? For that matter, how do you tell what's a feature?

The upper left plot is the ALMA 15-σ signal. The other 5 are from the skeptics performing exactly the same procedure on other eyeballed "features." The black curve in each one is the result of a 12th order polynomial(*) fit to a region around, but not including, the feature region. They get, as you can easily guess, apparently quite significant signals from noise. A more conservative background estimator gives a much less significant PH3 signal.

Results: We find that the 12th-order polynomial fit to the spectral passband utilised in the published study leads to spurious results. Following their recipe, five other >10 sigma lines can be produced in absorption or emission within 60 km/s from the PH3 1-0 transition frequency by suppressing the surrounding noise. Our independent analysis shows a feature near the PH3 frequency at a ~2 sigma level, below the common threshold for statistical significance.

(*) John von Neumann said "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."